Warsaw diary #2: System change, not climate change
The UN must agree a new climate change treaty at its convention in Paris, December 2015. To meet this deadline, it will publish a draft treaty in spring 2014. That text, unions insists, must include the operational principles of Just Transition and Decent Work. In the devastating wake of typhoon Haiyan, human rights to life, food, shelter and livelihood must also feature.
So here in Warsaw we closely monitor the detail as texts change and governments meet in open or closed sessions. And if you look away, you may lose the lot, a fear we have been experiencing in sessions here on developing country policies where we found that just transition has seemed again to be dispensible to some groups of negotiators.
And if the great value of these gathering from the union point of view is to strengthen international solidarity, it is also where genuine union fears about the huge carbon shift ahead can also be frankly expressed, sometimes very much so.
But over 200 people attended the Campaign Against Climate Change (CCC) rally in the city centre today, Sunday. Most were younger delegates who took the overnight train from Brussels, bringing a much needed energy boost to this UN conference. They animated the climate march through the city centre on Saturday, too, demanding System change not climate change. Balcombe residents opposed to fracking are here, too.
At the rally, Graham Peterson of the UCU spoke about the progressive part played by the education sector, not only in working with the National Union of Students in the UK (7 million strong) but also campaigning for the finance sector and well endowed university pension funds to disinvest in carbon shares. A large segment of financial markets float on a carbon bubble. It’s now clear that four fifths of all oil, gas and coal reserves need to stay exactly where they are, underground, if we are to have the remotest chance of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Those investments are at risk, and need to rethink their portfolios in favour of low carbon alternatives.
Piotr Ostrowski, OPZZ union confederation, admitted frankly that “change” was a difficult idea for many workers in Poland. Unions were sceptical about climate change and climate change policies. Over the past 20 years, the economic transformation in Poland had created a climate of fear, change brought unemployment, labour subcontracting, a lack of benefits and poor access to healthcare. Poland’s unemployment rate is 13% compared with 0.3% in 1990.
Miners and energy workers are worried for their future, for their families. They have ceased believing in politicians’ promises, and in June 2013 withdrew cooperation from the tripartite social dialogue bodies led by government. In September, unions led four days of action against government measures. The government should not expect unconditional union cooperation on climate change or any other transformation of society. Yet he acknowledged that there could be real employment opportunities in sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. “Climate change is on our agenda now,” he said.
Bert de Wel from the Belgian trade union ACV-CSC rejoined with, “If you close your eyes to climate change you are stealing from your own children.” Unions demand policies that are socially just now and protect the poorest in society. Some say green investments are win-win. They are not, because jobs are also at risk, especially across the EU’s energy intensive industries and energy sectors. So we need strong and effective dialogue with industry and government. In the transition, the social protection available is widely different between workers in Belgium, Poland or the United States, where workers can face the complete loss of benefits and healthcare.
As crowds gathered this weekend to march in Warsaw for a new climate deal, 60,000 people attended rallies across Australia in one of the largest ever displays of support for action on climate change. Tim Flannery, head of the Climate Commission, cut by the new Australian Coalition after it took power:
“If we let we let the world get warmer it’ll have an impact on fire weather and the ocean is going to expand. These are pretty simple propositions, they aren’t propositions for argument by anyone. They need to be accepted as the facts and we need to move forward with the risk in our mind.”